Why the Grateful Dead Matter

Benson, Michael. Why the Grateful Dead Matter. New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2016.

Reason read: Early review for LibraryThing.

I decided to write this review a little differently. Instead of waiting until I had read the entire thing before commenting I decided this time I would write comments as I went. Here’s what happened:

I have to admit, I found some of Benson’s writing a little hokey. When he said, “there’s an app for that” I practically groaned out loud. So, this is how it’s going to be I thought out loud.

The structure of Why the Grateful Dead Matter is a little chaotic. That is to say, there is no real structure to the chapters. Just open the book and read. Doesn’t matter where you start. Doesn’t matter where you end.

This is essentially an argument without hard facts. Don’t expect an authoritarian narrative. No works cited. No in-depth research. It’s as if this book blossomed from a late night debate (possibly fueled by alcohol?); a debate with a friend about why, 50 years later, the Grateful Dead are doing a Farewell Tour. Picture it: the debate turned into Why The Grateful Dead Matter conversation. The reasons why they matter come fast and furious from Benson, political debate style, until someone says, “Man, you should write that s–t down!” And he does.

The chapter on Ripple being so zen is flimsy and without substance. It started off as a strong argument and somehow got off topic at the end. It petered out feebly when one of the last examples of zen is the Grateful Dead playing a benefit for the Zen Center. There is little substance in regards to HOW the music is “zen” and yet, the chapter on the instruments being custom made was well organized and detailed. Benson knows their equipment and knows it well.

This is one for the fans. Read this if you already love the music and just want to share in the common interest. Read this book if you already know why the Grateful Dead matter and you just want to agree, possibly shouting “Exactly! Right on, man!”

As an aside, I just bought my husband the compilation “30 Trips” for his birthday. I’m hoping Trips will contain the versions of songs Benson mentions as outstanding in Why the Grateful Dead Matter. Here is a partial list of the songs I need to find:

  • Wharf Rat 12/31/78 (particularly Jerry Garcia’s guitar solo)
  • China Cat Sunflower 1971 (Bucknell University)

Author fact: Benson is all over with place with his interests. According to the back cover, he writes about music, sports, crime, film, the military, and politics.

Book trivia: the early review copy I received had photographs in it, some I had never seen before. Very cool.


March Musings

What can I say about March? Personally, it’s the St. Patrick’s Day 10k road race. I’ve been injured so it’s hard to anticipate how well I will or won’t do. I went for my first outdoor run this weekend and ran 7.5 with a steady sub-10 pace. That felt strong! Happy girl! And speaking of strong, here’s what’s on deck for the books:

  1. Naked Lunch by William Burroughs – in honor of Jack Kerouac’s birth month. Jack and William were friends…
  2. Family Man by Jayne Ann Krentz – in honor of Krentz’s birth month
  3. The Brontes by Juliet Barker – in honor of March being literature month (over 1,000 pages!)
  4. Means of Ascent by Robert Caro – to continue the series started in honor of Presidents Day being in February (EB)
  5. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – in honor of Maine becoming a state in March
  6. The Assistant by Bernard Malamud – Malamud died in March.
  7. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie – in honor of the Academy Awards being in February and March (HOAYS was made into a movie)

For Fun:

  1. Confessional: still reading Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan

For LibraryThing:

  1. I am supposed to receive Why the Grateful Dead Matter by Michael Benson as a January Early Review book sometime in the month of March…As an aside, there are a few other books I haven’t received and feel bad that I never read or reviewed them. I am sure they have all been published by now and so (I can’t believe I’m saying this) I’m going to see if a library has them. If they do, I will read and review as if I got them as Early Reviews from LibraryThing. The first non-early review I am going to tackle is a book I was supposed to received in 2009 – Sanctuary of Outcasts, a memoir by Neil White.

So Many Roads

Browne, David. So Many Roads: the Life and Times of the Grateful Dead. Read by Sean Runnette. Minneapolis: HighBridge Audio, 2015.

Reason read: I was chosen to review this an part of the LibraryThing Early Review program. I’m calling it “training” for the July Dead shows in Chicago! The big question is, how did LibraryThing know I scored tickets? ha.

This is being touted as one of the most unique & comprehensive books about the Grateful Dead ever to be written. Author David Browne claims even hardcore fans will learn something new. Since I am a blossoming 21st century Deadhead I thought I would invite my husband to listen in to give his opinion. He helped in the writing of this review.

As an audio book, this was a bit different. Neither my husband or I could follow the format at first. The prologue jumps to 1970 pretty early which confused my resident Dead aficionado. Unlike other biographies this one is not in linear chronological order. The organization is as such: Browne chooses a date significant to the Grateful Dead’s history whether it be fateful like the day Jerry and Bob met, historic like day the infamous wall of sound was conceived, or tragic like the day Pigpen died.¬† He then centers a chapter around that day in time. But, as it was pointed out, Browne doesn’t stick to that date. He’ll leave the time frame and circle back to it again and again within the chapter. From an audio standpoint, it makes for interesting listening.

Extremely detailed and factual, Browne is spot on. Drawing from a multitude of interviews he is able bring the culture of the Grateful Dead to life. There is a sensitivity to his storytelling. For example, Hart’s pain when his father ran off with over $75,000 of the band’s earnings. The story goes much deeper than Mickey’s self imposed exile from the band and Browne illustrates the journey to forgiveness beautifully. Everything about the Dead is there: the drugs, the women, the struggles with fame, traveling, relationships within the band, the highs and lows, but mostly importantly, the music that continues to influence generations. The attention given to the Grateful Dead sound was particularly enthralling. As someone who latches onto thought provoking lyrics, the sections including Robert Hunter and his collaboration with the band are my favorite.
As a result of listening to David Browne’s So Many Roads I understand the Grateful Dead much better. I am looking forward to their Fare Thee Well tour in Chicago! I will not only be listening with my ears, but with my heart as well.

Author fact: David Browne has written other books which can be found on his own website: David Browne


Last Train to Memphis

Guralnick, Peter. Last Train to Memphis: the Rise of Elvis Presley. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1994.

When Guralnick calls Elvis a “myth” is he referring to the unfolding of events that created rock and roll, or is he implying Elvis had an unverifiable existence? Was Elvis a false notion? I’m not really sure. What I am sure about is Guralnick’s ability to tease apart the smaller pieces of Elvis Aron Presley’s early life; the moments that led up to his stardom. There is certainly enough emphasis on Elvis’s shy and polite and humble beginnings as a sheltered country & western wannabe who couldn’t play the guitar worth beans. There is also emphasis on the key people surrounding Elvis during his rise to fame. It is obvious as Elvis’ stardom rose, the less he was able to discern who was trustworthy. He needed an entourage and he struggled with identity, but a growing confidence led him to expect adoration and special treatment, especially when it came to cars and women. I appreciated the historical context of the songs Elvis made famous, especially since someone else wrote them and almost always sang them first. Everyone knows Elvis made ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ famous, but few recognize the true origins of the song. I also appreciated the emphasis placed on Elvis’ connection to family. Elvis may have had a taste of reality when he had to enter the military, but he had to swallow it whole when his mother died. The event changed his life. This is where Last Train to Memphis ends. The sequel, Careless Love picks up the biography.
Last Train to Memphis includes photographs (as it should), but that’s not the cool part. The cool part is that the photos are not clumped together in the middle of the book like most biographies, but rather they begin each chapter like a little surprise.

As an aside, I found it interesting that in the author’s note, Guralnick mentions more than once that he felt he needed to “rescue” Elvis.

Reason read: Elvis was born in January. Need I say more?

Author fact: This is silly. I have been misspelling Peter’s last name for the longest time. I have been leaving out the N. It’s GuralNick.

Book trivia: Last Train to Memphis covers the years of 1935 – 1958. Careless Love continues where Last Train leaves off.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Elvis On My Mind” (p 76).


Ready for a Brand New Beat

Kurlansky, Mark. Ready for a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing in the Street” Became the Anthem For a Changing America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2013.

Don’t be fooled by the title. This work is much bigger than the humble beginnings and subsequent impact of just one song. Retracing the musical roots of rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock and roll Kurlansky tackles the history of these musical genres (and the musicians who played them) and leaves no stone unturned. The best part of this book was the unveiling of the profound impact technology had on music. As technology continues to change the course of marketing music, buying music, and listening to music it is worth remembering that this trend started a long time ago.

There is one prediction I can make about this book. Whether Kurlansky intends for this to happen is another matter, but I bet people will be reaching for their old Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley albums after reading Ready for a Brand New Beat.

Favorite part: in the acknowledgments Kurlansky thanks Steve Jordan. That is too cool.

Reason read: As part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing…

Author fact: Mark Kurlansky is one of Pearl’s “Too Good To Miss” authors.

Book trivia: Kurlansky thanks drummer Steve Jordan, one of my favorites.


Imperfect Harmony

Horn, Stacy. Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2013.

As much as I liked Horn’s writing style it took me a long time to get through this book. Each time I put it down it took longer and longer to pick it back up. I wasn’t retaining what I read and I wasn’t interested in what happened next. There wasn’t an opportunity to wonder what was going on because there was no flow to the content. Horn’s writing felt like well crafted essays with the common theme of choral singing. While I learned a great deal about singing with others from both the modern and historic perspectives I wasn’t as connected with the subject as I wanted to be. I have a feeling this will be a hit with people who know more about singing in the chorus because the writing is fantastic.

The above makes it sound like I didn’t get anything out of Horn’s book. I did get something unusual out of it – an overwhelming desire to see New York City as she describes it. I was drawn to her magical descriptions of certain streets. I felt like I had never really seen the city like she had. It made me want to open my eyes a little wider and walk a little slower the next time I am there.

Reason read: As part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing


January ’13 was…

When I look back on January 2013 I have a sense of relief. All things considered this month was better than the last. In the grand scheme of things January treated me kind. No major meltdowns. No minor catastrophes to speak of. I started training for Just ‘Cause in the quiet way. Four to five miles a day and I didn’t stress about the numbers. If I didn’t make five or even four I didn’t have a hissy fit or beat myself or moi up. I cut me & myself some slack; gave us a break. I know that as the months wear on this won’t always be the case, but for now it was nice to go easy on me, myself & moi. The running was a different matter. Just as relaxed a schedule but not so easy going on. The run is a little over six weeks away and I’ve done next to nil in order to train. New Guinea has been awesome in that I’m working on speed intervals on level five. Let me repeat that. Level five. Nothing to write home about. I used to operate at level nine. Enough said. On with the books! I am pretty proud of the list.

  • Lives of the Painters, Architects and Sculptors by Giorgio Vasari ~ in honor of National Art Month way back in October. This finally completes the series!
  • Ancient Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day by Philip Matyszak ~ in honor of Female Domination Day in Greece.
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray ~ in honor of January being the first month I read something from the first chapter of a Lust book. I admit I didn’t finish this one.
  • Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham ~ in honor of Maugham’s birth month. I also didn’t finish this one.
  • Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron ~ Happy new year. Read something to make me happy.
  • Idle Days in Patagonia by W. H. Hudson ~ in honor of January being the best time to visit Patagonia.
  • The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll ~ in honor of Lewis birth and death month.
  • Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson ~ in honor of the month all Creatures Great and Small aired.
  • Tatiana by Dorothy Jones ~ in honor of January being the month Alaska became a state.

On audio I listened to:

  • Final Solution by Michael Chabon ~ in honor of January being Adopt a Rescued Bird month.
  • No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith ~ in honor of Female Mystery Month
  • City of Thieves by David Benioff ~ last minute add-on. This was addicting!

For the Early Review program with LibraryThing:

  • Gold Coast Madam by Rose Laws (started in Dec)
  • Her by Christa Parravani

For Fun:

  • Leave Your Sleep the poetry book for children by Natalie Merchant